It's been a few months since my one year busine-versary rolled around, and I can't believe how much things can change in 12 months. I think it's always good to keep tabs on your milestone moments, as looking back at how far you've come can be such an incredible confidence booster. When you first start your business, you're full of excitement and fear in equal measure, wondering if you'll be successful. After a year of working for myself, I can tell you that those feelings don't really disappear like you thought they would. Yet, I feel like that's also part of the enjoyment of being your own boss. It motivates you and inspires you to keep pushing forward.
I haven't done a blog post in a while, and I thought this topic would be a great starting point to get back into the swing of things. I realise that I'm not the master of all things business, and I'm obviously still learning. However, I thought my artistic viewpoint would be a good addition to the conversation. So, whether you're a creative and looking to start out, if you're already in business and can relate, or just generally interested, then continue reading!
Here are my top 10 tips I learned in my first year of business as an artist:
1. Don't compare yourself to other creatives.
I feel like this nugget of advice is so often said, but is rarely used in practice. To me, that's the one downfall of being an artist and producing something you have constructed with all of your soul. It takes huge courage to even put your work out there, so there will come a time where you will inevitably feel like you're not good enough, or no one will want to buy your work, or 'so-and-so's work is so much better than yours. Well, I am here to set the record straight. If you truly make something that you are inspired by, and have created yourself, you cannot compare it to someone else. You already have a unique edge, and that is what makes your work so wonderful. The only person you should be comparing yourself to is who you were yesterday. Focus on improving your skills and enjoying the process of making, rather than what other people are doing. When you're in your flow, your work will speak for itself.
2. Organise your admin, and keep up to date with finances.
I mean, come on, who enjoys admin? No one who ever left their job to become an artist/small business owner, did it so they could sit at home and fill in spreadsheets. It's taken me a whole year to learn this, and it wasn't until someone asked me what my best selling product was (and I didn't have a accurate answer backed up by sound Dragon's Den worthy numbers), that I realised it was time to get my s**t together and start those beloved spreadsheets. The thing is, admin isn't that hideous, so long as you complete it in small chunks. That's why for 2019, I will be conducting accountability meetings with my fellow artist and small business owner Kirandeep Bassan every month so that we can ensure we're both on schedule, and won't end up with a huge task to complete next January. Because let's face it, nobody likes doing their tax return the day before its due.
3. You don't need to buy all the gear up front.
Not many people will know this, but when I first left my job, I wanted to own my own shop. I wanted to paint and restore old furniture and I wanted to have a beautiful shop where people would visit Hugo and I and browse my lovely collection of items. Now a shop was a distant dream, as I didn't have any money, but that was the goal, so I started researching, buying furniture, getting in different paints and brushes, and planning everything out. I continued shopping until I'd built up a big stock of supplies and then got to work on actually restoring the furniture. It was only then that I found out that I didn't want to spend every day restoring furniture. I mean, I do like it when doing the odd project, I just didn't want to spend every working day sanding, painting, waxing, and sanding again etc. Now, if I had bought one of everything, instead of about 10 of everything to 'stock up' I would have learnt that lesson a lot more cost effectively. So my advice is to just buy supplies as and when you need them, then you'll learn what you do actually need to stock up on, and save some pennies in the process.
4. It's okay to have a day off.
Again, this is a lesson I didn't learn until towards the end of my first year. It can get really tough when you run your own business, and you don't actually realise how much time you spend working. Whether it's physically making your product, filling in admin, ordering supplies, keeping up with social media, etc all of this can easily continue on a perpetual 24 hour loop. You love what you do, so you don't want to take a break, and then theres the guilt of even daring to sit down and do nothing, because when you do nothing, there's no possibility of getting paid. However, everyone needs a time out. Especially if you're a creative, you need that mental break in order to regain some inspiration. I decided over the holidays that I was going to close the website and come off social media for at least a few days and it felt so amazing to do so. When I came back, I felt more inspired, and had more energy to put into work I was extremely passionate about. Don't let the guilt talk you out of it. Breaks are compulsory every now and again.
5. If you try something and it doesn't work out, that's okay.
As I'm currently working through my second year of business, this tip is still relevant. I can only assume it will continue to be relevant. Having your own business means that you will try out different ideas/products/styling/branding etc, and not all of your first attempts will land like you thought they would, and that's okay. Yes, it stings when you have to take a hit, and it's not just your ego that's bruised, but also your wallet. However, if you don't give things a go, you'll never know! At times like these, its best to reflect and write down all the things that worked that you can take forward with your business, and all the things that didn't, which you can leave behind. I mean, it might not even be that what you've tried isn't good in theory. It may just need more work, or it was released at the wrong time. For example, I wasted a lot of money on instagram ads that I didn't really know much about, and that actually didn't lead to many new engaging followers, or orders for that matter. That's not to say that I won't use social media ads again, but I will be a lot more organised and informed in my approach next time.
6. Charge what you're worth.
I find it so frustrating that we live in a society where it's taboo to talk about money. It's something we deal with everyday, whether it's buying a meal at lunch, putting fuel in your car, or even paying your bills. To live in this world, you need to have money. So why is it so hard for us to ask for an exchange for our time, talent and expenses? We'd expect to be paid if we worked for someone else, so why can't we ask for it when it's just us? I think being able to price your items fairly is such a huge task when starting your own business. There's the cost of materials, and then the time it's taken you to actually complete making the item. It's a hard balancing act between covering your costs, and not wanting to be so out of price range that you're just not affordable. Yet, the truth is, is that you can always raise your prices later down the line. Don't sell yourself short, but just know that there is always room for growth. Once you find your customer, who truly loves what you do, they will be more than willing to pay you for your expertise.
7. Never underestimate the value of friends and family.
When I was thinking about all of these tips, this one really stuck out for me. Not only have my friends and family been a huge support in terms of buying my products, and spreading the word about my business, but both Jai and my family have been there when I have needed a whole crew of people and not complained about the lack of wages for their services. Jai has been there to drive me around in big vans to events, and I've had my Mum and sister sit at the dining room table and tie string around cards to seal them as I don't like using plastic sleeves. Where possible, they've come to all my events, and have just been generally amazing. There are times even now when my business will be quiet, and just having my Grandma buy a card from me makes all the difference. I should also say that my Grandma has let me convert her garage into my studio, so, you know, that's also a massive help!! Even if it's just a case of posting your business on their social media, every little bit counts.
8. Do your research when it comes to suppliers.
When looking for suppliers, whether that's for materials, or manufacturers to produce your products, make sure you shop around. Yes, it does take a lot of time and effort, but finding the best quality product, at the best price, takes time, and it is so incredibly worth the effort. I know I've used many different suppliers for my packaging, and I'm constantly on the look out for a better price for things like tissue paper and boxes as my sizing is always changing for my paintings. Also, for items like marketing material and anything that involves good quality printing, shop around until you find the dream of all printers. There's nothing worse than representing your business, or sending out a product with poor printing quality, so make sure you work to get this right! It won't happen overnight, and that's fine, and if you can get any advice from fellow creatives, then do reach out to people. Just don't be offended if they won't divulge their secrets, as finding these gems can actually take more time (and money!!) than you think.
9. Take the time to know your audience.
Once you know your audience, you're golden. This one is a really interesting topic of business conversation, as often you will find the audience you thought your product would attract may not necessarily be who ends up buying what you're selling. Or, your customer is who you thought, but they have completely different spending, or lifestyle habits that you weren't previously aware of and you may need to make changes to accommodate that. That doesn't mean that you need to completely change your product, at the end of the day you want your customer to come to you, and buy the work that you love to make. An interesting way to find out who your customer is, and who gravitates towards your work most, is to do fairs and shows. Having that face to face interaction with your potential followers/customers means that you get instant feedback and opinions on your work. After you start doing multiple fairs, you will also come to find that your customer changes depending on what event you are doing. For example, I've had fairs where my calligraphy gift tags have done amazingly well, and then I've had fairs where not one has sold. It's an ever-changing environment, and taking the time to get to know who is buying your products can only be of huge benefit to you, and your business.
10. My business would not be here without social media.
As much as social media can be a curse, forcing us to compare ourselves to other people, it is a small businesses modern day dream. I wouldn't have been able to achieve half the things I have this year, without the help of instagram and facebook. Not only can I express my creativity and my processes as a business, I can also reach my customers, engage with fellow small businesses and potential b2b collaborations. I have received painting commissions through social media which have come from America and Australia, as well as the UK, and I've had businesses and galleries contact me after having seen my images on instagram and wanting to showcase my work within their business. Social media can also keep your audience up to date with new and existing products, and well as upcoming sales, and events where you may be exhibiting. It's pretty incredible to think that I have work in multiple countries, and that's all thanks to the connectivity and community that these apps enable us to create. It is because of these apps that I am able to spread the messages of blog posts like this on a larger scale, and also keep you guys up to date with my day to day business life, not just the big events. Being able to chat with you guys on comments or DMs gives me the encouragement and motivation I need to keep going when it's just little old me sat at home working away.
Well, there you have it, my top ten tips for your first year in a creative business. If you've reached the end of all these points then I salute you. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my top tips for the first year of business, and I hope you can benefit from some of the advice listed here today. I also want to say a big thank you to all of my customers reading this too, you have contributed to me still being here doing what I love one year (and a bit) later.
This one is for all the small businesses out there, and all the people who help support those small businesses x